This Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals will play host to the Baltimore Ravens in a “win and you're in the playoffs” game. With such high stakes on the line, a casual fan in any other market would expect a sure sell-out. But this week the Bengals organization held a “Buy One-Get One” sale for season ticket holders to avoid another blackout of the game locally. This begs the question - are league wide ticket sales issues to blame on the fans or an archaic blackout policy?
The ticket drive worked and the Bengals announced yesterday they avoided what could have been their seventh blackout of their eight home games this year. Even though the Ravens game will be shown locally, Bengals fans have had to suffer through six home blackouts for a team on the verge of making the playoffs. They rank last in leaguewide attendance at just over 42,000 fans a game and fill Paul Brown Stadium to only 72% capacity, also last in the NFL. The Bengals' issues have brought about an interesting debate on whether or not the NFL blackout policy that has been in place since 1973 should be changed.
Sherrod Brown, a Senator from Ohio, has stepped into the ring to take the blame away from the Cincy fans and put it squarely on the NFL as related in USA Today:
“The NFL's blackout policy is unnecessary. The NFL is poised to earn record profits while the Cincinnati taxpayers who built the stadium will be watching reruns rather than touchdown runs. The rule is an outdated relic that doesn't serve the NFL or the fan."
But the NFL stuck back hard in their reply stating “The blackout policy is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets; keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds; and ensuring that we can continue to keep our games on free TV. Playing in full stadiums with thousands of fans is an important part of what makes NFL football an exciting and special entertainment event, both live and on television. We have a limited number of games and do not want to erode the incentive to buy tickets. Every market receives more than 100 NFL games on free TV every year, regardless of the blackout policy.”
Before the Blackout Rule of 1973 was in place, ALL local games were blacked out to encourage fans to attend the games live. And since the league has only had 16 games blacked out this year (through Week 16) compared to last year’s 26 total games blacked out, it makes sense that the league would stick to their guns on this policy.
So if Cincy has seen most of the blackouts this season, are the fans to blame? Or the ownership? Or a combination of numerous issues?